By: Amy Williams
It’s all very well to have a great idea, but turning a brainwave into a money-maker takes a particular type of nous, regardless of your personality.
And it seems some people are blessed with this seventh sense – Barnaby Marshall is one of these.
The 28-year-old entrepreneur and investor has spent half his life finding sweet spots in the market and creating businesses – he sold out of the clothing label I Love Ugly last year, then turned his focus to helping tech start-ups through the business incubator The Icehouse.
“Like all entrepreneurs, I wanted to create something new in the world. That’s always my motivation, to create something good that has value in the world, and it’s fun. Business is hard but it’s also really interesting,” he says.
Business is in his DNA. When other Auckland teenagers were kicking a ball around, Marshall set up a business called Party Nuns and gathered a bunch of friends (aka staff) to clean houses after parties – mostly parents and their friends.
“It’s a hard problem trying to figure out what the market is missing and then how to deliver that in a low-cost but high-value way. That’s an interesting challenge, it’s like a sport.”
He and his fiancee, Bridget Gallagher, have two young children. Marshall says they’re the best kind of cheese and crackers, and their different personalities complement each other.
“I think anyone can be an entrepreneur. I haven’t been able to pick the characteristics of an entrepreneur,” he says.
“Someone who’s gregarious and confident may make a good entrepreneur, but someone who’s reserved and thoughtful and a little bit introverted can also make a fantastic entrepreneur.”
He says the hallmark of any entrepreneur is a unique insight, and a drive and determination to create something new.
Marshall spent a few years as a musician after studying sound engineering at university, creating beats for hip hop artists.
He changed career to start a mail-order underwear business, and rented a shared office space with some like-minded friends, where he met future I Love Ugly business partner Valentin Ozich.
He sold the underwear business online to a guy in the United States, and went into business with Ozich in 2011.
I Love Ugly opened its first store in Mt Eden that year, launched an online store, and received its first big order from the UK retail giant ASOS. Within four years, they had four stores in New Zealand, one in Los Angeles and another in Melbourne.
They had also attracted some high-profile customers including A$AP Rocky, Justin Bieber and Rita Ora. An image of A$AP Rocky wearing the brand’s iconic Zespy pants went semi-viral on Tumblr (topping 200,000 re-blogs), cementing I Love Ugly’s ranks in the cult streetwear scene online.
In 2016 they hit some speed wobbles, had challenges with capital and inventory, and pulled back to focus on New Zealand stores and the online business.
Marshall says he was ready to start something new in 2017, and sold his stake in I Love Ugly to his business partner, who was keen to carry on building the business.
Meanwhile, in 2015 Marshall had become an angel investor in a tech start-up through The Icehouse. Last year he was asked to consider a role with The Icehouse, where he now manages seed investment for its accelerator programme Flux, and seed investments for a $11 million venture fund, Tuhua Ventures.
Flux was set up in 2016 to accelerate technology start-ups, then raise further capital to fund their growth. Once a year Flux invests in six to eight start-ups, and works closely with them for six months as they scale their companies.
The role allows him to have a finger in the pie of many businesses, working as their coach and nurturing the companies till they fly the coop.
That said, he says there’s nothing like having your own start-up – “being on the sidelines is quite different to being the quarterback”.
“I don’t think I could stay away from doing my own thing in the future but right now it’s really interesting and fulfilling to work with different tech companies in different industries, with different markets and different challenges.”
In the meantime, Marshall is happy to let his energy flow into helping other businesses succeed.
“My creative outlet was music, then my creative outlet became business building. I Love Ugly became my project. Now helping start-ups is where my creative energy flows, helping entrepreneurs solve problems.”